Over recent years there has been a lot of noise generated about inbound marketing, and how it will replace traditional – mainly outbound – marketing channels.
Yet the reality isn’t quite that straightforward, as both inbound and outbound marketing can be effective.
The trick is choosing the right one for YOUR business.
What is outbound lead generation?
Outbound lead generation is where you deliver your message to your prospects without a prompt from them.
It is you, not the prospect that determines the timing and format of these communications. In effect, you are interrupting them.
Traditional lead generation typically falls into the category of outbound; direct mail, telemarketing, email marketing and advertising. Outbound lead generation has sometimes had its reputation tarnished by bad targeting or over-communication but thankfully, the days of blanket mailings or telemarketing are largely a thing of the past.
Often outbound leads provide you the opportunity to shape the requirement or thought process of the prospect; because often they are early stage leads, where the prospect is still considering what they need to buy, not just from whom.
With good targeting, particularly as part of a multi-channel or integrated campaign, outbound marketing techniques can still be effective.
What is inbound lead generation?
Inbound marketing is conceptually the reverse of outbound. Instead of interrupting prospects with your messaging, you incentivise the prospect to investigate your business, and then contact you when the time is right for them.
Typically, the incentive to discover more about your business is through content that is of value to your prospect.
In effect, you give away some of your intellectual property or insider knowledge. With modern B2B buyers often wanting to self-educate, your content helps them to make better purchasing decisions.
Content is the hook. However, it is only one part of inbound marketing. What is often overlooked is that a distribution strategy is needed; your prospects need to be aware that your content exists for them to access it.
Often lead quality from inbound marketing is high, as the prospect has already undertaken a significant amount of their supplier evaluation prior to making an enquiry.
Time before ROI is achieved
Outbound, by its very nature of interrupting your prospects, will often generate leads quickly.
Conversely, inbound marketing is usually a lot slower. Even an effective inbound marketing program is unlikely to deliver many leads within the first year.
In most cases, inbound leads are of good quality because they are closer to the point of wanting to make a purchase and already believe you to be a potentially suitable supplier. That isn’t to say that outbound leads aren’t good quality but usually there will still be some selling to do.
Both inbound and outbound marketing require a high level of skills. Just because outbound has been around for years, it doesn’t mean the skills required are any less. It’s simply because inbound is a newer approach, there are less people with the range of skills and experience required.
Cost and Risk
One of the main risks of inbound is that because you aren’t expecting to generate leads quickly (or at least you shouldn’t be), it is easy to waste money creating low quality content and not getting the distribution strategy right, but not realising it until it’s too late.
Application and benefits
Outbound marketing is primarily a form of lead generation. Inbound, whilst also being a form of lead generation, has the added advantage of being able to support the sales process and drive-up sales conversion.
The ultimate aim of marketing is to generate profitable sales. The primary objective of both inbound and outbound marketing for B2B businesses is to generate leads.
There will be some B2B businesses whose aim is to directly win businesses without there being interaction with Sales; these are usually low-value, transactional type business such as workwear or promotional goods, where often the marketing strategy is more like a B2C business.
However, for the vast majority of B2B businesses there will be some form of human interaction between the Buyer and a Salesperson, either by telephone, face-to-face, or both. This underlines the importance of lead generation.
So, it is important not to lose sight of what inbound or outbound marketing set out to achieve.
Strategy is vital
Both inbound and outbound are tactics, not a strategy in their own right.
Targeting the right people with a relevant proposition, careful planning and analysis are required, regardless of channel.
Data is invaluable
Whilst conceptually, prospects subscribe to receive content, primarily it is only large corporates (or indeed market leaders) that have enough customers or organic website visitors to make this successful.
Therefore having a database and contact details for the key decision makers and influencers in your target market will enable your marketing to be more effective, regardless of whether it is outbound or inbound.
Which one is right for you?
However, for most businesses, a blend of inbound and outbound marketing techniques that integrate with each other is likely to be the best solution.
For example, content marketing that shares relevant, interesting articles over email and LinkedIn, combined with telemarketing that focuses on the prospects that engage with the content.
This helps convert interest into action – which can be challenging to achieve via content marketing alone – whilst making the telemarketing more effective, as the calls are targeted at warm prospects, who are receptive to the call.